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Women's Health

Irish women account for seven in 10 non-resident abortions carried out in UK

More than 3,200 women and girls travelled from Ireland to the UK for terminations last year.

download Briana O'Doherty at Connolly Station in 2014, after she took a train with other pro-choice campaigners from Dublin to Belfast to bring back abortion pills Brian Lawless PA Archive / PA Images Brian Lawless PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

SOME 3,265 WOMEN and girls travelled from Ireland to the UK for abortions in 2016.

That means Irish females accounted for almost seven in 10 (67.9%) of the non-resident abortions carried out in Britain last year.

countries UK Department of Health UK Department of Health

The figures, released today by the UK Department of Health, also show that another 724 women gave addresses from Northern Ireland.

This compares to 3,451 who gave an address in the Republic and 833 who gave an address in Northern Ireland in 2015.

The vast majority of the women who gave addresses from the Republican lived in Dublin – 1,175.

ireland counties UK Department of Health UK Department of Health

Women in the age groups ranging from 20-39 accounted for most of the terminations. However, 10 girls under the age of 16 sought an abortion in the UK last year, as did 56 girls aged 16 or 17 and 174 women aged 18 or 19.

age UK Department of Health UK Department of Health

Around 169,000 women and girls have travelled from Ireland to the UK to have abortions since 1980. The full report can be read here.

Commenting on the figures, Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) spokeswoman Linda Kavanagh said: “While the numbers of abortion seekers who gave an address in Ireland and Northern Ireland decreased, these numbers cannot and never will be an accurate picture of the abortion service needs for women on the island of Ireland.

We cannot know how many women and girls have been missed by these statistics … These figures are always going to be a conservative estimate. As abortion is almost entirely illegal in Ireland, it is impossible to accurately collect data on the number of women who choose to terminate a pregnancy.

“Due to the intense stigma surrounding abortion in Ireland, women who travel may give no address, a fake address or the address of where they are staying during their visit. We know that a minimum of three women a day risk 14 years in jail by purchasing safe but illegal abortion pills online,” Kavanagh said.

Cora Sherlock of the Pro-Life Campaign said the decrease in the number of Irish women seeking abortions in the UK is “a very welcome development”.

“There is no doubt the availability of the abortion pill online is a factor in the fall in the numbers of women travelling but it is being grossly exaggerated as a reason by pro-choice campaigners.

“The facts are the fall in the number of abortions has been happening for 15 years now, a period of time much longer than abortion pills have been readily available online,” Sherlock said.

According to the UK Department of Health’s figures, the number of women giving Irish addresses at abortion clinics has decreased from 6,673 in 2001 to 3,265 in 2016 – a decline of 51%.

Abortion pills 

Commenting on today’s figures, Helen Deely, head of the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme, said: “It appears that the rate of women travelling abroad for an abortion declined relatively rapidly between 2001 and 2007  and in recent years the decline has been more gradual.

“Recent research shows that increasing numbers of women from the island of Ireland are making contact with online abortion pill providers.

Figures published by one provider would suggest a 62% increase in the number of women from Ireland contacting that online service over a five-year period, from 548 in 2010 to 1438 in 2015.

“The authors report that the number of women who consult with the service is not indicative of the actual number of women who were sent the abortion pill and subsequently took it. This is because women change their minds, experience a spontaneous miscarriage, decide to travel abroad to obtain an abortion or decide to continue with their pregnancy.

“Research reports that while the vast majority of women did not need to contact medical services following taking the abortion pill at home, approximately one in 10 (9.3%) reported to the online provider that they were experiencing a symptom for which they were advised to seek medical advice and 95% sought medical advice as advised,” Deely said.

Human rights violation

Earlier today, it was announced that the UN Human Rights Committee found Ireland’s abortion legislation has violated the human rights of a woman.

The finding was made in relation to the case of Siobhán Whelan, who was denied an abortion in 2010 after the diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality. It echoes the same committee’s June 2016 decision in the case of Amanda Mellet, who chose to travel to the UK to have a termination. In November, the State offered to pay her €30,000 in compensation.

A statement on behalf of Whelan noted: “In taking this case, my hope was to bring about a change in our laws so that when faced with the tragic news of a fatal foetal abnormality women would have a choice to end the pregnancy in Ireland and not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term or to travel out of our country to access health care services like I had to.

The suffering I endured because I had to travel to access health care was inhuman.

Speaking about today’s decision, the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the case on Whelan’s behalf, said it expects her to be offered compensation.

At a press conference in Dublin today, the Center’s Regional Director for Europe Leah Hoctor said political leadership is needed to bring about a change in Ireland’s abortion legislation.

At the time of the Mellet decision, the government cited the work of the Citizens’ Assembly in its response to the case. In April, the Assembly recommended that abortion should be legal in Ireland without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Hoctor said that, if enacted, this would bring Ireland in line with most other European countries. The State has until November to respond to today’s decision, by which time Hoctor said the Center hopes a date for a referendum on changing Ireland’s abortion laws will have been set.

Read: Ireland’s abortion laws subjected woman to ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment’

Read: Girl seeking abortion held in psychiatric unit when she thought she was going for termination

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